Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Reading Women #5 A book in which the characters are traveling somewhere

A Wrinkle in Time  – Madeleine L’ Engle  (The Time Quintet Series)

“I don't understand it any more than you do, but one thing I've learned is that you don't have to understand things for them to be.”

First published in 1962, this is a children’s classic written by the American author Madeleine L’Engle  who famously stated, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” And so she did. This book is a unique combination of fantasy, science fiction and religion which had an unprecedented heroine – a young girl who liked science and math, who had glasses and braces and who was unafraid of non-conformity. For whatever else the book does or doesn’t, I admire this fact that at a time when science fiction written by women for a primarily young female audience in mind was a rarity, a book like this gave them a protagonist they could love and admire.

Meg Murry is the heroine in this tale of science fiction is an exceptionally gifted child (she can do square roots of really big numbers in her head!) which makes schoolwork tedious and boring to her. This causes her to be seen as an awkward, non-conforming loner in school. Her parents are both scientists and she is the eldest of four children. Her twin brothers are quite normal and boisterous young boys, but her baby brother Charles Wallace is keenly perceptive and is able to read her thoughts even without talking to her. The bond between them is precious.

The trouble which presents itself at the start of the book is that their father, an eminent physicist (Dr. Murry)has been missing for nearly two years and there was no news of him. This throws a shadow of gloom on all their lives. Meg also cant help but getting into small spots of trouble at school too.  The adventure begins one night when a strange old woman, Mrs. Whatsit, appears, "blown off course" while she, along with Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, was “tessering”, or taking a shortcut through time and space. This brings up the central scientific concept of the fifth dimension into the plot of the tale. The father apparently had been trying to use the fifth dimension (fourth dimension is time, fifth is space) to travel across time and space. And it seems like he may have succeeded.

Together with the strangely named ladies, Meg, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their new friend Calvin, “wrinkle” or travel across time to rescue Dr. Murry, who is a prisoner on a planet ruled by IT, a giant pulsating brain that controls the minds of everyone on the planet. Well, that is basically how the story goes. Though I myself didn’t feel the tug of this widely acknowledged classic , I do feel it will only stand to gain more popularity with the upcoming Walt Disney movie which can boast of a diverse and impressive cast.

The reasons why it didn’t work for me could be due to the fact that I didn’t read this as a child, but as an adult. It may have a certain charm for younger readers who have a central female protagonist, who is different (and not afraid to be so), who loves numbers and scientific ideas (as opposed to writing or poetry as is common), she gets into fights, gets angry, is very curious and in the end leads the way in the battle against Evil. There was also several references to other works embedded in this story including Macbeth, The Tempest, Alice in Wonderland etc. These points definitely gets this book a positive recommendation. And till I read the rest of the series, I probably shouldn’t pass a final judgment.

The book does have clear overtones of Christian analogies – like that of fighting the darkness, becoming the light and a few more. However, it doesn’t override the book in any way. The story progression is slightly confusing and even though they were traveling across space, onto different planets and moons, it lacked a certain level of excitement that could be expected of such an adventure. The ending seemed quite tame considering the build up to it. All this being said, I think a better reviewer of this book would be a younger version of me, who knows what I would see in it? :)



Sheree said...

I often fear, with classic children's books that I missed as a kid, that I just won't "get" them as an adult if I try to read them now - it sounds like you might be with me on that? Without that sense of nostalgic attachment, I can find it really difficult to engage with them. I've not attempted Wrinkle in Time, but I can see the impact that it's had on so many other readers - I wonder how many women in STEM today can attribute their persistence in the field to having this book as a child. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts :)

Sne said...

Thank you for stopping by Sheree! I felt that way with this book, somehow I couldn't connect to it even though I realized how unique a protagonist it could boast of.
The impact of the book on young kids inclined towards the sciences is definitely worth considering. I for one, spoke about "wrinkling" in time very elaborately after i read this to my long-suffering family :), so a mightier influence probably if it was read by a younger audience could be expected.

Paula Vince said...

I've got to admit that I tried to get stuck into A Wrinkle in Time a few years ago, and couldn't see what all the fuss was about, although I wouldn't have admitted it to my fantasy, sci-fi and time travel loving friends :) I wanted to love it, and I did love Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water, about the creative process, but no, it was one of those disappointing times. That's a great wrap-up though, reminding me that I gave it a good, hard try.

Sne said...

@Paula - I havn't read that book by Madeleine L'Engels...will look it up. Thanks Paula! I too felt there was this overwhelming need to like the book but I couldn't connect to it. Glad to know I am not alone in thinking this though :D